Penn State 2014-15 Record: 18-16, 4-14 in the Big Ten
Key Players Lost: D.J. Newbill, John Johnson, Alan Wisniewski, Geno Thorpe and Ross Travis.
Key Players Coming Back: Shep Garner, Brandon Taylor, Donovon Jack, Devin Foster, Jordan Dickerson, Isaiah Washington, Payton Banks and Julian Moore.
New Recruits/Transfers: Josh Reaves, Deividas Zemgulis and Mike Watkins.
Penn State’s 2014-15 season can be divided into two polarizing seasons: the non-conference schedule and the Big 10 schedule.
Armed with a deluxe scorer in D.J. Newbill, the Nittany Lions were not to be considered anybody’s slouches this past season. Newbill was a guard who was capable of carrying a team with his ability to put the ball through the basket.
The Nittany Lions started out like a house on fire. They roared out of the gate, en route to a 12-1 start in the non-conference portion of their schedule. Their only loss was to Charlotte. Some skeptics say they played a soft schedule, but they did beat George Washington, USC and Virginia Tech along the way.
Regardless of how you viewed their non-conference schedule, Penn State was clearly riding some momentum heading into Big Ten action. There was thought that they could make some headway last season under head coach Pat Chambers.
However, a different reality hit the Nittany Lions right in the face when they began Big Ten play. Penn State would proceed to drop their first six games of conference play. It would not get much better the rest of the way, as they finished with a 4-14 conference record.
On the other hand, the Nittany Lions did make a spirited run in the Big Ten Tournament, beating both Nebraska and Iowa to make the conference quarterfinals. Their run ended with a loss to Purdue. In all, Penn State did wind up winning three of the last four games they played, though.
Individually, and as you might expect, Newbill had a fine senior season, as he was named second team all-Big Ten. He averaged 20.7 points (tops in the Big Ten), 4.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, while shooting .370 percent from three-point range.
2015-16 Look Ahead:
With the Nittany Lions having the season they just had and on top of that also losing one the best scorers to ever step foot on their campus in Newbill, well, the forecast for a turnaround in 2015-16 does not look bright— at least on paper.
The Nittany Lions also lose two other key starters in Ross Travis and Geno Thorpe, who just transferred from the school last week. So, as you can see, everything is not so peachy keen in Happy Valley these days.
Penn State’s leading returning scorer is Shep Garner. Garner had a fine freshman campaign, while averaging 9.2 points and 2.3 assists per game. Senior forward Brandon Taylor should also be a vital member on Chambers’ squad. Taylor averaged 9.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
For Penn State to exceed expectations next season, they also need to get good production from their solid three-man recruiting class. In particular, 6’8” center Mike Watkins and 6’5” shooting guard Josh Reaves offer Chambers some hope, as they are fairly high-end prospects.
Chambers is heading into his fifth year in Happy Valley and last year was in fact his first winning season (albeit not in the fashion you want it). He’d like to build on that modicum of momentum because if the team regresses, Chambers could feel the heat to keep his job.
Still, it’s hard to envision a scenario where the Nittany Lions have a successful season next year. They just have too many question marks and not enough proven players. A spot towards the bottom of the standings seems inevitable.